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In a season full of big games, Auburn may be A&M’s biggest

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The difference between good and great starts on Saturday

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Auburn John Reed-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t need to tell you how difficult Texas A&M’s schedule is. It’s the first thing everyone talks about when discussing the 2019 football team, and for good reason. The Aggies have already played top-ranked and defending national champion Clemson at their house, and still have the number two, three and four teams to look forward to in Alabama, Georgia and LSU. But despite these matchups, which Jimbo Fisher has described as “great opportunities,” A&M’s biggest opportunity may just come this Saturday when they host the eighth-ranked Auburn Tigers.

For the duration of the offseason, the talk was about how A&M might be an improved team whose record doesn’t improve, with four virtually guaranteed losses on their schedule. And the possibility certainly exists for A&M to upset one of those top teams. But this isn’t a four-game schedule. While those four games at the top represent A&M’s most likely losses, there are several other teams they’ll face this season capable of beating the Aggies if they don’t play up to their potential.

Before A&M worries about knocking off the great teams, they must prove they can beat the good ones. And a good team is exactly what’s coming to Kyle Field this weekend.

While Auburn is a cut above programs like Mississippi State or South Carolina, it isn’t a national power. They have an SEC title and two division titles to their name since A&M joined the SEC, but they also have five seasons in which they finished with eight or fewer wins. The Tigers hold a 4-3 advantage over the Aggies since 2012, in a fluky series in which the home team was winless until Auburn managed a comeback win at Jordan Hare last season. Looking at their 2019 team, they passed their only test so far, beating Oregon 27-21 to open the season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

The bottom line is that while Auburn is good, they are the kind of program that, if the Aggies are to get where they want to go, they must start beating consistently, especially at home. Under Kevin Sumlin, the Aggies were notoriously bad about beating conference opponents at home, going 8-15 in SEC games at Kyle Field from 2012-2017. In Jimbo Fisher’s first year we saw marked improvement, with A&M beating all three SEC home opponents (Ole Miss, Kentucky and LSU) and going 6-1 overall at Kyle Field, with the lone defeat being a two-point loss to Clemson. Win on your home turf this Saturday, and you are 1-0 in SEC play with a top 10 win under your belt and every conceivable goal for this season still on the table. Lose on Saturday, and suddenly you have the very real possibility of a 7-5 record and a .500 conference record staring you in the face. Just like the difference between winning and losing a game can come down to a handful of coinflip moments, the difference between a good season and a great one comes down to winning games even when the other team is just as good as you are.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Texas A&M
A&M’s newfound home field dominance (8-1 under Jimbo Fisher) will be put to the test when Auburn comes to town on Sept. 21.
Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Of course, you could write this exact same article from the Auburn perspective. They, too, still have games against Bama, Georgia and LSU to look forward to (along with Florida). They, too, feel like A&M is the kind of team they need to beat in order to be considered among the upper echelon in the SEC West. Both teams and both fanbases will wake up on Saturday morning with the expectation that they’re going to win, knowing that the outlook for their 2019 season could change drastically if they don’t succeed.

When A&M hired Jimbo Fisher, the message was clear that they are not content in the tier where the A&M football program currently resides. You don’t guarantee someone $75 million to be good, you do it with the expectation that he will make you great. While no reasonable fan expects that change to happen overnight, you want to see progress. You want to see signs that the team is moving in the right direction, and that they’re on their way to competing with the very best college football has to offer. A&M may not be ready to take down the Clemsons and Alabamas of the world in year two of the Fisher era, but getting their first ever win over Auburn at Kyle Field would be a step in the right direction, and a stepping stone they can’t miss if they want a chance to fulfill the goals they established at the outset of the 2018 season.

Poll

What’s your outlook on the Auburn game

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    A likely loss to a superior program
    (238 votes)
  • 24%
    A coinflip game, can’t be too mad if we lose
    (342 votes)
  • 58%
    A must win in year two
    (819 votes)
1399 votes total Vote Now